Tallinn in Estonia was the first city to offer free public transport to all residents and is now rolling the scheme out across the country. Could the same thing ever happen here in the UK?
In 2013, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, introduced free public transport across the city, in response to a public referendum on the subject in which 75% voted in favour.
How Does it Work?
Anyone wanting to take part in the scheme had to register as a resident of the city, and pay €2 for a ‘green card’. Other people – visitors from elsewhere in the country and tourists – still had to pay. The scheme covered not just buses, but also trams, trains and trolley buses.
The trial in Tallinn was deemed a success. Despite the loss of the revenue from ticket sales of about €14 million a year, the city was able to improve its rolling-stock, order new trams and buses and improve tram lines. Now the government has rolled out the scheme across the whole country, with 11 out of the country’s 15 counties opting in.
What is the Impact?
It sounds like a great idea however there is not yet any evidence that it has actually reduced emissions or taken cars off the road because owning a vehicle is a huge status symbol in Estonia. So some work is clearly needed there to help people recognise the many benefits and encourage a change of attitude.
This is mirrored in the UK by the fact that here over 65s have free bus travel but many still use their cars due to habit, comfort, culture (or lack of bus services).
It’s also worth noting that the main opposition party in Estonia is against free public transport and there is a general election coming up this month (March 2019).
Following in Estonia’s Footsteps
Meanwhile several other countries are looking closely at how the scheme works, including how popular it is with the public and the economic and environmental impacts it is having overall. Luxembourg is now poised to become the first country to make all public transport free for everyone.
Free Public Transport in the UK?
In the UK, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has already expressed a wish to give free bus travel to the under-25s.
Alison Holland, Brightkidz founder, social entrepreneur, marketing professional and former teacher with 16 years experience helping schools, local authorities and others promote their active travel and road safety campaigns.